Monday, February 3, 2014

Oo! Oo! I'm All Bubbly Just Thinking About It!

I could not go to sleep last night. It wasn't pity for the Broncos or elation for the Seahawks that delayed my repose (although you can't help but feel sorry for poor Payton -- wow, that was a painful trouncing). It was the prospect of a new English teaching position this fall.

Nothing certain yet -- I just had a casual talk with the principal about the matter with further talk on the way. But already my brain started cranking. A brand new class! Starting from scratch! Oh, the thrill of it all!  A chance to build a curriculum and a system to be whatever I want it to be.

What do I want it to be?

Well, I'd start with the writing curriculum, and fortunately, these kids already have a base in IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing) training. IEW is great; it's kind of like running drills in basketball practice, or painting the classics by number, or acting through strict imitation. It teaches you the basics of what the deed looks like and FEELS like when done well to train that feeling into your bones.

But by 9th grade, it's time, I think, to step beyond the drills and into the real game of writing where those skills are applied and modified to fit the situation, or writing assignment, at hand. I think it's time to introduce 6-Trait Writing Analysis. (Oooh!  Ahhh!) Papers will be evaluated according to the 6-traits of excellent writing: Ideas and Content, Organization, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Grammar and Mechanics, and Voice. (Is anyone else tingly? I'm tingly. Yes, I'm an English geek, and the idea of 6-Trait Writing Analysis makes me tingly!)

Also, since writing is a skill applied to information that is gleaned elsewhere, I would want to work together with the content area teachers (History, Science, Bible and Literature -- though that last one might be me also). I'd want to discuss with them short writing assignments (paragraphs) that they could assign over their topics which we could discuss in writing class. And the other teachers and I can grade them together -- they grade Ideas and Content, I grade the rest.

In addition, I'd want to have some regular routines dealing just with words and language and the fun and beauty of them. Like . . . one vocabulary word a week (not the ten a week my eldest is trudging through in AP English only to forget the minute the quiz is over). One good quality, practical word a week that we define, discuss the usage of, seek to plug into our conversations (with quickie rewards for that -- toss them a piece of taffy?), bonus points for using them in papers . . . and a brief "quiz" or activity every Friday over all the year's words to ensure none of them are forgotten.  To ensure mastery. If high school students master thirty new high-quality, useful, practical words a year that actually become a part of their active vocabulary and alter the way they think as well as write, that would be a great accomplishment right there. Wouldn't it? Wouldn't it be awesome?  (Pant, pant.)

Literature? I'm not as strong here as I am in the writing area, but I would want to start by making the distinction for the kids between reading for pleasure and reading to study. Both are valuable and necessary skills, but the trick is to teach the latter without killing the former.

The IEW program already taught them the Story Sequence chart which introduces the literary elements. It's a small step from there to analyzing a piece of literature by how the author uses those elements.

Oh -- another thing! Since I last was in the classroom, we've jumped into the computer age! I can have the kids send me assignments online, so I can read and evaluate and make plans for the next class day based on what I see. We can do chatrooms or something on homestudy days to answer questions about the literature their reading. I can create an online literary magazine to "publish" student work! Yeah! Oh, yeah! How cool would that be?

Oh, oh, oh!!! . . . and one of the biggest advantages of working with such a small class is being able to individualize. SO important in my book! Any checklist for a writing assignment I give will also have a item for the student's "Personal Challenge" -- the one thing he and I have identified that he personally wants to work on to improve his writing.  That may be increasing sentence fluency. It may be finding interesting ways to introduce your topic. It may be figuring out how to use commas correctly once and for all. It may be playing with figurative language. Again, if each student has two or three personal challenges during a year that he focuses on and meets to improve the weaker areas of his own writing, that right there is a significant accomplishment.

I'm SO excited about the possibilities here. Can you tell I'm excited about the possibilities here?  I really need to get squared away soon whether or not I have the job -- otherwise, I'll be up every night planning poetry units and grammar units and such for a phantom class I'll never teach . . . and that would be pretty lame. (Although it wouldn't be that different from what I've done in my spare time for the last fifteen years or so. I really need to get back in the classroom . . .)

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